Scorpion (1986)

Where do I begin with this review?

Okay, so Sam, B&S About Movies illustrious proprietor, swings by Eide’s Entertainment, a cool vintage music, comics, magazines, and videos joint in Pittsburgh and picks up a copy of Mill Creek’s “Explosive Cinema” 12-film pack—for the sole purpose of getting a copy of Brent Huff kicking ass in 1985’s Nine Deaths of the Ninja (and it really is the BEST movie in the set!). So, Sam and I get to talking about the other films on the set—1986’s Scorpion, in particular.

Directed by Columbia Pictures’ behind-the-scenes-of-movies documentary purveyor William Riead, Scorpion—the only starring role of karate champ Tony Tulleners, the one guy the “invincible” Chuck Norris could never beat—chronicles the adventures of super-agent Steve “Code Name: Scorpion” Woods. After Scorpion thwarts a Los Angeles airline skyjacking, he uncovers an international scheme involving the assassination of an imprisoned drug-kingpin turned government informant. And when the bad guys murder his partner—he lets loose his “sting” to avenge the death.

Now if this low-budget romp sounds familiar, like Steve McQueen’s Bullitt familiar, that’s because it’s practically a shot-for-shot rip-off of McQueen’s iconic action film—right down to Don Murray (!) (Governor Breck from Conquest of the Planet of the Apes?) in the corrupt lawyer/politician role played by Robert Vaughn (watch this Vaughn scene from Bullitt to see what I mean). In fact, there’s touches of Clint Eastwood’s “Dirty Harry”-era films in the mix (watch this scene from Magnum Force and you’ll see what I mean).

What got us into this mess in the first place!

But as with those low-budget romps from Crown and American International Pictures, the cast is the thing: it’s why we suffer through them—and enjoy them. So, in line behind the always-a-pleasure-to-see Don Murray, we also get Robert Logan from the hit ‘60s TV series 77 Sunset Strip and Daniel Boone, Bart Braverman, who’s been in everything, from 20 Million Miles to Earth (1957) as a kid actor to the hit ‘80s TV series Vegas, Ross Elliot, who’s been in everything as well, from the early Clint Eastwood war movie Kelly’s Heroes (1970) and TV’s The Virginian, Bonanza, and Gunsmoke, Robert Colbert from Irwin Allen’s TV series The Time Tunnel and Hunter in the ’80s, and John Anderson, who’s been in everything, from ’60s TV’s The Rat Patrol and MacGyver in the ’80s.

So, why is Scorpion the only movie Tony Tulleners ever did, you ask? He did, after all, kick Chuck Norris’s ass three times in the ring—and Norris ended up with the film and TV career? What happened?

Did Tulleners see the film, realized it sucked, and quit Hollywood? Or did Hollywood think Tulleners sucked—and gave him his walking papers? Truth be told: Scorpion really is awful: just a like an ’80s action direct-to-video flick should be. Like Crown International Pictures awful. Hey, wait a minute. Crown made this! Ah, no wonder it’s so bad. But again, what saves this blatant rip-off of Bullitt and Dirty Harry is the fact that Crown made it—and we know the barrel of crap we are getting into with that studio—and we want to get into the muck and mire with that studio. Why? Again, it’s the crazy “Where’s Waldo” who’s who casting of our beloved UHF-TV ’60s and ’70s television reruns cast in Crown’s oeuvre.

Here’s the thing with Scorpion, the feature film writing and directing debut by William Riead: No one would be talking about this film at all if it wasn’t for it being confused with the “specialty video” Scorpion (1986) shot by John Howard of Spine fame and starring Linnea Quigley (aka Jessie Dalton). So don’t be duped by the reviews on Riead’s Scorpion, in KY Jelly-anticipation for Linnea Quigley’s “hot tub kidnapping” and “extended bondage-torture scene.” Stow the pocket rockets, boys. Move along, now.

And god bless ‘em, Don Murray is still active in the business. He most recently starred in the 2017 limited-series reboot of Twin Peaks and is currently filming the low-budget direct-to-video western Promise. Most recently, Bart Braverman starred alongside Jeffrey Donovan of TV’s Burn Notice in the two season run of Hulu’s 2016 series, Shut Eye.

And writer-director William Riead is still at the keyboard and behind the camera. He made, what I think, is a pretty decent romantic-thriller that’s above the usual Lifetime damsel-in-distress flick-junk, 2001’s Island Prey (aka Broken Vows) with Don Murray, along with Ed Asner (TV’s Lou Grant) Tony Dennison (TV’s Prison Break, The Closer, and Major Crimes), and Olivia Hussey (Black Christmas, Ice Cream Man, Turkey Shoot).

From a karate-action flick to a Mother Teresa biopic. Everyone in Hollywood has has to start somewhere.

Riead’s most recent effort was his fourteen-years-in-development passion project: 2014’s The Letters, a biographical drama that explored the life of Mother Teresa and starred Max von Sydow (Flash Gordon, Judge Dredd) and Rutger Hauer (Nighthawks, Blood of Heroes). Sadly, Riead’s passion didn’t translate into box office gold: the $20 million film’s worldwide gross was less than $2 million (and does not deserve to be called-out in our “Box Office Failures Week”). The beautifully shot and acted film won the Audience Favorite “Best of the Fest” Award at Arizona’s Sedona Film Festival, while Riead won the Best Director and Juliet Stevenson (as Mother Teresa) as Best Actress at Rome’s International Catholic Film Festival.

You can watch a VHS rip of Scorpion along with the trailers for Island Prey and The Letters, all courtesy of You Tube. There’s no PPV online streams or free rips of Island Prey available, but The Letters is widely available on all the usual streaming platforms—including You Tube. There’s no online rips of John Howard’s Scorpion but, if you absolutely must see the cover, you can, on Letterboxd (don’t worry; there’s no nudity and it’s safe to look at, provided ropes don’t offend you).

Phew! See what happens when you go shopping at Eide’s Entertainment? Watch out for more reviews from Mill Creek’s “Explosive Cinema” 12-pack all this week.

About the Author: You can read the music and film reviews of R.D Francis on Medium and learn more about his work on Facebook.

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